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Prized Cameo Proof 1879 Coiled Hair Stella Rarity

Article by John Salyer, Numismatist and Cataloger, U.S. Coins. Based on the catalog description by Jim Matthews, Senior Numismatist and Consignment Director and John Pack, Executive Director of Consignments.

Author: Stack's Bowers Galleries / Tuesday, April 16, 2013 / Categories: United States Coin of the Week
Stack’s Bowers Galleries, the only official ANA auctioneer for 2013, will present the first of our two ANA auctions for the year with the May 7-11 Official Auction of the ANA NationalMoney Show, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

This exciting event will feature many scarce-to-rare numismatic delicacies, some of them in the Private or Territorial gold category; intriguing items from the longtime holdings of a New England museum; and several noteworthy pieces that are highly desirable based strictly upon their individual merit and rarity.

One of those outstanding offerings will be an 1879 Coiled Hair, four-dollar Stella, graded as Proof-64Cameo by PCGS, in a Secure Holder.

As other numismatists have observed, the $4 gold Stella is a truly rare treasure that is usually not acquired, by many (if not most) of the collectors who ardently pursue them; sometimes for many years or even decades. This is not necessarily a function of the high cost for an example of this rare type: rather, it may simply be the case that even a well-heeled numismatist will be unable to succeed as the highest bidder at one of the infrequent auction appearances of these beautiful coins. Those hardy souls who do enter the fray, and compete for the proud ownership of one of these lovely pieces, must choose between the relatively more available Flowing Hair design, or the extremely elusive Coiled Hair type.

The Coiled Hair Stella is one of the most coveted and classic issues in American numismatics. Minted during only two years, in 1879 and 1880, there are just a handful known of each date, and any appearance is an opportunity for the specialist. The obverse design is by George T. Morgan, with a bust of Liberty facing left, her hair coiled in a complex braid wrapped in a coil at the top of her head. She wears a tiara inscribed LIBERTY in tiny letters. Around the obverse the legend reads * 6 * G * .3 * S * .7 * C * 7 * G * R * A * M* S* an abbreviation for 6 grams gold, .3 grams silver and .7 grams copper for a total of 7 grams. The date 1879 is below the bust. The reverse is the same seen paired with the Flowing Hair obverse, engraved and designed by Charles E. Barber. The central feature is a raised five pointed star, with a beaded inset border. Inscribed on the star is ONE / STELLA / 400 / CENTS. Around the star, in small letters, DEO EST GLORIA / E PLURIBUS UNUM. The outer legend reads UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, with FOUR DOL. below.

The current specimen offers fully brilliant surfaces with no copper specks seen tucked into the lettering, rims or devices. For future pedigree tracing there is a minute obverse lint mark just touching the back of Liberty's neck, just below her hair line. The strike is reasonably sharp on all devices, although a hint of softness is noted in Liberty's curls above her ear, a diagnostic feature of this extremely rare issue.

The idea for a new trade coin in gold was developed by Representative John Adam Kasson who felt America should have its own international coinage in gold. Kasson was also involved with the legislation to help the silver miners offload their silver bullion for coinage with the help of Representatives Richard P. "Silver Dick" Bland and William Darrah Kelley--legislation which gave birth to the Trade dollar, the Goloid Patterns and the Metric coins. However, among the issues so inspired, the Stella stands high among them as the most highly prized today. The Stellas were struck during just two years and are technically patterns, though the first year (1879) Flowing Hair design was widely distributed. Why so few Coiled Hair examples were struck is not known, but today these are some of the most popular of the Pattern issues in any metal, and particularly so in gold. Few collectors have ever seen one, let alone had the chance to own such a numismatic treasure. It has been years since a Coiled Hair Stella appeared for sale, and this one is as beautiful as it is rare, with nice cameo contrast nicely complementing the superb aesthetic quality. In short, it would be virtually impossible to replace the quality and rarity seen here, and it may be years before another Coiled Hair Stella is offered.